American glam-rocking singer/songwriter Adam Lambert concedes, with a self-chiding laugh half-way through our conversation, that “sometimes success and fame can feel a little bit like double-edged swords that bring great things but also bring unexpected things, like being misunderstood or underestimated, and that can be hard.”
With his singular voice and musical vision, Lambert found enormous US success as the runner-up on the 2009 season of American Idol. Though he well and truly owned the stage every week, he was best known for two blistering but utterly different performances during his time on Idol, each of which showcased his enormous versatility and vocal prowess.
One of them was a mind-blowing psychedelic freak-rock interpretation of Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ and the other a heart-wrenching, pared-back cover of the Tears For Fears song ‘Mad World.’
He also managed to do what only two other Idol finalists (and eventual winners) Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood had done post-Idol: he parlayed his success into an international career with the release of a truly great debut album that was worthy of his considerable talents.
For Your Entertainment was a fearlessly wide-ranging album on which Lambert indulged his musical magpie tendencies, trying multiple genres on for size and succeeding in doing so as he sang his way through everything from stomping glam rock to gorgeously haunting ballads and superbly emotive songs that were drenched in everything from hints of eastern exoticism to the nostalgia of full-on synth-laden ‘80s pop and electronica.
It spoke to the enormity of Lambert’s self-effacing talent, poise and promise as a performer that British band Muse and American songstresses Pink and Lady Gaga all gifted him songs for the album, with the latter enthusiastically declaring herself to be Lambert’s “musical soul sister.”
“From what I’ve gathered, Australia really understands the value in joy and peace and being able to live a life that’s satisfying.”
Much, too, was made of Lambert’s sexuality. During his time on Idol, he refused to address speculation that he was gay. Many argued that the speculation unjustly cost him the winner’s crown, something Lambert told US Rolling Stone magazine was “probably” true when he was later interviewed for a cover story.
Still, as he puts it, “I don’t think I was ever hiding anything. I more-or-less went into it with a ‘what you see is what you get’ mentality. I mean, I was a 27-year-old middle-class white guy wearing make-up and heels, what did people think they were getting, you know?”
Lambert laughs and pauses before continuing: “When I came out, I think I kind of did so with a sense of weariness and hesitation. I’ve lived openly my whole life so was in no way ashamed of who or what I am, but I was aware that coming out publicly, as it were, would possibly alter the way people looked at me or perceived me. But, that said, I’m really an open book. I think I always knew that anybody who had a problem with my orientation probably wasn’t somebody I wanted to connect with anyway.”
In May, Lambert released his much-anticipated second album, Trespassing. Whereas For Your Entertainment had reached number three on the US Billboard Albums Chart, his sophomore effort bettered that not inconsiderable achievement by debuting at number one.
Not surprisingly, the media was filled with headlines about Lambert being the first openly gay artist to debut on the Billboard Album Charts in the top spot. Again, it seemed that his sexuality was synonymous with his music, the two hopelessly conflated and inseparable, something Lambert admits he finds tiring at times.
“It always feels a bit different when I am talking about these issues for a LGBT publication like yours because I feel like that audience that’s reading it may understand these struggles a whole lot more. When it’s for a mainstream publication, yes, it tends to be a lot more sensationalised and I do find that frustrating and problematic when it’s all about my sexuality and not so much about my music. I think the goal is to try and find a balance, which can be tricky, because often I have no control over it,” he says.
“Being gay is definitely a part of my identity and who I am and it’s something I am completely, one hundred percent comfortable with. I don’t hide who I am when I write lyrics. I refer to my own life, my own struggles, my own joy, my own love, whatever.
“On one side, I see it as very important to be outspoken and to be visible as being that, especially for young people and for the next generation who are coming up, who are looking for examples of people who are not letting their sexuality keep them from doing exactly whatever the hell they want, basically.”